Tuesday, 18 July 2017

TransFormers Legends (Titans Return) LG35 Super Ginrai

Let's take a trip back to August 1988. Fourteen-year-old me was reading the TransFormers comics published by Marvel, frequently revolted by the artwork, but at least trying to pick it up every week (asking the newsagent who delivered our newspapers to call in a subscription didn't work, and the place at the tube station occasionally sold out, so I don't have anything like a complete run, and many of those I have are damaged due to poor storage). Having been killed off the previous year, Optimus Prime was finally returned in another of the Nebulans' bizarre experimental processes (which they seemed to enjoy regularly inflicting upon hapless Cybertronians in the name of keeping the peace), where they built themselves mech suits which basically turned them into power converters - Powermasters, in fact - for the newly-rebuilt Autobot leader and some of his cohorts. Not only that, but Powermaster Optimus Prime could combine with his trailer to become one of the few 'Super Robots' the toyline had seen (along with Ultra Magnus and all the gestalts). I can't remember offhand if I owned the toy before the character appeared in the comics, but I do remember being impressed by the idea of Optimus combining with his trailer to make a super robot... only to be extremely disappointed because the basic truck robot was a step backward from the original, Diaclone-derived figure in every way, and the combined 'Super Robot' could barely be considered poseable, even by Mini-Autobot standards.

Takara Tomy reworked and improved several aspects of this toy, releasing it as a new character, Ginrai/Super Ginrai, who coincidentally looked like Optimus Prime, but wasn't... At least until it was repainted in black, to become 'Nucleon Quest Super Convoy'.

So, when images of Hasbro's Titans Return Powermaster Optimus Prime surfaced, my interest was thoroughly piqued. Based on the awesome Combiner Wars/Legends Ultra Magnus structure, it had far more potential than the old G1 brick but sadly ended up with too many parts recycled from Ultra Magnus and a weirdly beige 'grey' plastic on a lot of its parts.

Of course, it took Takara Tomy to get it right, even if that did mean turning him into Super Ginrai again... but could even they unlock its full potential?

Vehicle Mode:
Of course, the first thing to note is that this retake of the G1 Powermaster figure is a fair bit smaller and less chunky than the original... not to mention substantially lighter... While that cautious/miserly expenditure of plastic is pretty much indicative of our times, what we have here is a far more refined model. Based on CW/Legends Ultra Magnus, it's also a far more complete vehicle. While G1 Powermaster Optimus Prime's truck component looked OK - if very basic and a little lacking in paintwork (only some of which was made up with stickers) - the trailer hitch was just an enormous peg swung down into a vast chasm of otherwise unoccupied space at the head of the trailer, which would be used to house the cab in super robot mode, and the useful space within the trailer was basically the area inside his lower legs - only a fraction of the trailer's full length. With this thing, virtually every surface is covered with detail and the full length of the trailer is empty, mostly enclosed space. Granted, the trailer does have some gaps - most notably, the elbows are easily visible from almost any angle unless the double-barrelled cannons are attached on the sides of the trailer, the head of the trailer is open for a little over half its height, and there's a long, hexagonal hole in the roof - but given that this is a reworking of CW/Legends Ultra Magnus' car carrier trailer, this is an excellent update, remaining true to the original while improving upon it significantly.

The trailer's doors doors fold down at the back to form a ramp which is only marginally more successful as a ramp than the one Ultra Magnus has. It's not immediately apparent, but the inner surfaces of the ramps - even the recessed sections - are molded with a diamond pattern. The space inside the trailer can't really be occupied by a Deluxe class figure - the outer framework is large enough, but parts of the super robot chest reduce the available width along the floor of the trailer about a third of the way in, then the super robot's arms reduce the available height almost immediately afterward. On the upside, several Titan Master vehicles or one of the Legends class vehicles could easily slip inside. Much like the original, the trailer sides are enclosed by hinged shell flaps which will be folded up for robot mode, and which feature a similar stripe design to the G1 version, albeit painted on rather than placed as stickers. The roof of the trailer features a couple of Titan Master connection pegs, but there are more on the sides - two on each of the rear wheel wells and another on each side, at the top of the detailed rearmost sections of the trailer walls, as well as one on each of the larger raised sections. Some of these pegs are clearly for base mode rather than vehicle mode, as using them here would require the Titan Masters to defy gravity. While the very front of the trailer is red - due to the requirements of the super robot - the bulk of it is molded in a nice, truly neutral grey plastic, which is a huge improvement on the weird beige used for Hasbro's version. I have to wonder how Hasbro go about choosing their colours as their choices frequently remind me of the problems one would have picking a colour for use in print via an RGB monitor, rather than from a book of colour swatches printed using the actual colours...

As with CW/Legends Ultra Magnus, the cab is little more than a receptacle for his Titan/Head Master partner but, unlike Ultra Magnus, it functions as such primarily in vehicle mode. The super robot's head folds into the cab in such a way that the back of the neck becomes a seat... though it places him in the centre of the cab, which isn't really ideal given its split windscreen. Takara Tomy's version has an entirely different sculpt for the front of the cab, more realistically designed versus the cartoonishly exaggerated look of the Hasbro cab, and certainly more G1-referential. Curiously, despite the redesigned outer surfaces, the inner surfaces appear to have much the same unpainted tech detailing as Hasbro's version, and a very different layout to Ultra Magnus' consoles. The sides are the same as Hasbro's version, which probably explains the tiny door on each side, just behind the front wheels... Given that one would expect the vehicle mode to be scaled to the Ginrai HeadMaster figure in this specific version of toy, these doors don't make much sense here... but I guess they had to choose which parts to remold quite carefully, given how extensive the changes actually are. The new front panels do leave the cab with a few mismatched parts - the windows are sunken back further on this version than on Hasbro's, and it's continuation of the silver stripes is not so deeply set, but slightly taller - though it carries off the look reasonably well. From the front, the mismatched details might just about pass as wing mirrors, despite being mounted so low versus the windscreen, but a closer inspection suggests they were intended to be lights - possibly indicators. The cab itself is molded in the sort of rich, bold red that Takara Tomy typically use for their Optimus Primes, a huge improvement on the anaemic red used by Hasbro. The rear end is molded in the same dark, sparkly blue as the trailer doors and, like Ultra Magnus, lacks any paintwork at the back to highlight the lights and bumper.

Paintwork generally is actually surprisingly sparse, given that this is a Takara Tomy toy - all the hubcaps are painted silver, the cab has silver paint for the bumper, grille, headlights, striping and smokestacks, while the windows are a pale metallic cyan. There's a blue patch in what's effectively the robot's armpit and the striping down each side of the trailer, then a dab of yellow and silver on the trailer doors/ramps... Then again, there's not much decoration needed on a figure like this. I'm a little disappointed that the grey panels of the trailer weren't painted silver but, to be honest, this model is pretty much good enough that it doesn't need any extra bling. What it could have done with is some paintwork on what looks to be molded tail light detail at the back of the trailer.

Super Ginrai comes with two grey plastic double-barrelled cannons - which would traditionally attach to the sides of the trailer - and a pair of gunmetal-painted dark blue plastic long-barrelled handguns. These are essentially just reworkings of the G1 figures weapons and, where the former could be straddled by a Powermaster figure, the updates have the familiar Titan Masters' cutout seating area, while the latter plug into the roof and, unlike the G1 version, sit high enough that they would be able to shoot over the front of the trailer. While they're all smaller and more finely detailed than their G1 counterparts, they look far better overall - much more in scale with the vehicle they're mounted on.

Robot Mode:
Compared to the vehicle modes, the difference in size between Legends Super Ginrai and G1 Powermaster Optimus Prime is minimal - the extra height given by the new feet balances the reduced height because of the far smaller head. In and of himself, though, his proportions are hugely improved - the arms are beefier, the legs comparatively longer... and he doesn't have an enormous, nappy-like crotch taking up about a fifth of his total height. While it's only marginally taller than Ultra Magnus, due both to the entirely redesigned feet and the new noggin, and while it shares many structural parts with Ultra Magnus, the two couldn't look more different when displayed together. Virtually every outer surface has been redesigned and, obviously, both have their unique takes on their character's red, white and blue colourschemes.

The most striking thing, versus Hasbro's version, is how different they look just in terms of colours. It's not simply the vibrant red of this model compared to the weak, almost pastel shade of Hasbro's, or even Takara Tomy's neutral grey versus the awful beige of the Titans Return toy. There's also the fact that Super Ginrai's arms are red plastic from the top of the shoulders down to the wrists (apart from the trailer panels on the backs of his forearms), as opposed to red painted beige plastic. The blue plastic of his shins and feet is darker and almost metallic-looking (what a shame Hasbro didn't use this plastic not only for their Powermaster Optimus Prime, but for TLK Barricade as well!)

But there's also a fair bit of difference in terms of the sculpted detail. The forearms are entirely new, made to allow an additional transformation step (which also sets the toy up for the Godbomber upgrade) and both the hips and the groin area are unique to Takara Tomy's version of the figure, updating and relocating both molded and sticker detail from the G1 toy. The obvious difference is the torso flap which, on this version, comes in three jointed parts - the central section being the largest, with a rotatable 'latch' piece on each side, which features the 'extra window' detail for the chest. The central part is molded and painted to resemble the G1 Powermaster feature, with a central, silver 'engine' section flanked by blocks of black. It closes entirely over the cab's grille, making for an excellent update to the G1 original. Now, perhaps oddly, I actually preferred the look of Hasbro's completely redesigned torso plate in early photos, with its almost movie-like aesthetic and absolutely no callback to the look of the Generation 1 toy, but the beige plastic and patchy silver coverage of the finished product, along with the typically anaemic red plastic/paint, were the main factors in my decision to hold out for the Takara Tomy version.

The new feet are the most contentious change as, while they have been designed to resemble the look of the G1 toy's feet - with a bit of extra detail and all the poseability one tends to expect with a Leader class figure these days - many fans feel they're too slim, and just don't look right compared to the massive boots Hasbro's version has held over from Ultra Magnus. Personally, I don't mind them... but I do think the trailer's rear wheels should be able to tilt inward slightly, so there's not such a huge gap between them and the feet.

His weapons take their traditional mounting points: the dual cannons on his shoulders - almost masquerading as Optimus Prime's traditional smokestacks - while the handguns have no real storage point other than his hands. The best alternative to putting him into full John Woo mode is to plug one gun into a fist, then attach the second to the 5mm port on the same wrist, thus giving him double the firepower on one arm. He looks pretty good with one in each hand, though, as - unlike the weapons with the G1 toy - they're quite slimline weapons, and not overwhelmingly large despite the length of the barrels. The two handguns can be plugged together via tabs and sockets on the tops of the weapon, to create another double-barrelled weapon, larger than the shoulder cannons, and with a convenient seating area for Titan Masters... but nowhere sensible to attach the weapon as its pegs are on either side. Obviously, with 5mm ports on his forearms and ankles, the dual cannons can be placed according to preference rather than tradition and, while mounting them on his ankles looks decent, that's not a very sensible position if you want a Titan Master figure to sit at the controls - placing them on his wrists with a pilot makes for a pretty good look, though.

Base Mode:
This is the one feature of the larger Titans Return figures that I don't expect to get much mileage out of. In much the same way as I found the alleged base mode of the G1 figure superfluous, I just don't see the point of it. That said, it's considered to be an important aspect of any Leader class Titans Return figure, not least because they're all designed to link to each other and/or Fortress Maximus/Trypticon. The linking parts generally take the form of a ramp or panel of some kind and, considering the only bases TransFormers toys ever had in the past were the out-of-scale likes of Metroplex, Trypticon, Fort Max and Scorponok, or even the likes of the mailaway cardboard S.T.A.R.S. playset, this certainly makes for an interesting dynamic for the target age range. In my day, pretty much everything base-wise had to come out of one's own imagination, on floorspace or whatever desks or shelving was available.

Broadly speaking, the layout of this figure's base mode follows the G1 original - the front of the trailer is an open platform, and the arms form towers either side, on which the handguns are mounted, then the legs form the sideways extentions of the base, featuring ramps and mountings for the double-barrelled cannons. The big differences are that the ramps, such as they are, extend backward rather than to the sides, and this thing extends forwards (or possibly backwards) rather more, with the chest panels ending up between the legs as a sort of control station, and the cab - because it's now an integral part of the super robot - sticking out the back.

There's a subtle feature of the cab that I particularly like - since it's supposed to collapse back toward the combat deck, it's raised above ground level and can no longer rest on the wheels, so there's a piece that flips out from behind the bumper to offer support. What's rather odd about this base mode is that the truck cab should probably be opened up to act as a control centre, but it's facing backwards and so probably not a great deal of use. Other questionable features are the halves of the trailer roof which now just stick up into the air, with the super robot's hands barely concealed behind them and used as mounting points for his handguns. They're just long, flat, grey panels without much molded detail (since they were the roof of the trailer), and just add to the impression that this thing's based mode is a bit of an afterthought, despite theoretically being integral to the character.

Head Master:
While he's not explicitly named in any English portion of the packaging, I'm going to assume that, since this is Super Ginrai rather than Optimus Prime, the HeadMaster figure in the set is Ginrai, though he's now a standard Titans Return-style noggin rather than an engine. While the figure itself is basically the same as the Hasbro version, the colourscheme and the Titan's face are different. Hasbro's Apex is unpainted red and beige with - I assume - an Orion Pax-inspired face on his back. Ginrai retains the G1 Powermaster's red, white and black colourscheme with a true Optimus Prime-style face on his back, which looks as though it was based quite closely on the slightly puffy-looking G1 Powermaster cab robot's head. Emphasising the organic nature of the operator, Ginrai's face is painted skin-colour and his visor is a vivid Autobot cyan.

One rather cool feature of the truck/armour/base is that there are plenty of places for Ginrai - and other Titan Master/HeadMaster figures - to sit or stand, either operating weapons or just hanging out. The G1 figure didn't really know what to do with his Powermaster if he wasn't plugged in, though his double-barrelled cannons did have tabs on them allowing Powermasters to sit on them. For this update, there's a specific area supposedly set aside for Ginrai, front and centre in the control area... though he doesn't plug in so much as just sit there - the peg on the back of this lower leg piece is small enough that it just rattles around in what seems to be the intended socket.

There's one loose joint on Ginrai - the right shoulder - but it's loose as in slightly floppy rather than loose as in prone to popping off. Everything actually feels nice and secure, the arm can hold its position perfectly well, but it moves far more readily than the left.

Transformation between the three modes is basically on a par with Ultra Magnus, the only real complication being the the new foot design for the super robot, which really doesn't like going back into its vehicle mode/based mode configuration and sometimes feels as though it might break in the attempt. The main improvement, for me, is that his super robot helmet, improving on the Ultra Magnus toy design, is integrated into the truck cab, forming the driver's seat for his Head Master rather than outright displacing his smaller partner.

Like the G1 original, there are significant differences between the Hasbro release and Takara Tomy's version. Once again, changes have been made to the arms so, not only do the truck panels fold away from the fists, but those fists have been granted rotation at the wrist. Also, fussy as those new feet may be, they are remarkably adaptable - while I've heard that the ankle joint (or perhaps just the heel spur) is a little weak on some (and there are several YouTube reviews which demonstrate the figure's propensity for falling over backward) mine actually seems fine, and the only time it's fallen over so far is when I posed it rather awkwardly. Admittedly, his feet are less stable than Ultra Magnus' great big clodhoppers, but they also look generally better... if a little slim. Other than that, it basically retains all the articulation of Ultra Magnus, with the hinged shoulder panels freeing up the outward swing while allowing his cannons to remain plugged in, while improving on the articulation both at the ankle and the neck.

Back when I bought G1 Powermaster Prime, I had a vague idea of what I was letting myself in for and, it being one of the later releases, it entered my collection more out of brand loyalty, optimism and because it was the first new Optimus Prime figure in the toyline, than because it was actually cool or well-designed. This new version builds on everything that was great about CW/Legends Ultra Magnus with the coolest features of the Titans Return gimmick. Rather than the super robot head being an entirely separate piece to be plugged in, it's a helmet that flips out from the truck cab and fits over Ginrai once he's attached to the integrated HeadMaster port. Unlike Ultra Magnus and Minimus Ambus/Alpha Trion, Ginrai can actually sit in the cab in vehicle mode, and the head can rotate a full 360°

Having this in my collection, the only thing I'm a little annoyed by is that Hasbro have since decided to release their own version of this mold - apparently named Magnus Prime for no obvious reason - and early photos suggested he would have silver paint over almost every piece of grey plastic. That certainly makes for a rather more striking look overall, and it may have ended up being cheaper than importing Super Ginrai... but it turns out that he's only going to be available as part of one of their somewhat random boxed sets, titled 'Seige on Cybertron', along with a bunch of characters I'm mostly ambivalent about... and he's not slathered with silver paint after all. Good old Hasbro.

Basically, Legends Super Ginrai is everything I might have wanted out of the crummy, chunky, underachieving G1 Powermaster toy - great articulation, cool features... and he's all one self-contained unit. Since I haven't bought a Classics/Generations-continuation G1-style Optimus Prime since the 2006 Voyager class figure, he's essentially Optimus Prime within my Combiner Wars/Titans Return collection. I think this figure is excellent as it is... but I will probably end up buying the two Perfect Effect upgrade sets, including the one that turns him into separate truck and trailer units, with an independently transforming truck...


  1. Why do you use italics so frequently in your reviews? You're emphasizing random words for no reason. It gives me such a headache trying to read this.

    1. I'm not one to indulge in pointless justification (if you'll pardon my typography joke) but... that's just my style. And it's hardly random - sometimes it's entire phrases.